Evolution and the “New” Genetics

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from A Worldview Approach to Science and Scripture
by Carol Hill

Intelligent Design

Akin to the Progressive Creationist position of special creation events is another popular view called “common design,” which arose out of the Intelligent Design movement. Intelligent Designers reject biological evolution and, like Progressive Creationists, argue that miraculous interventions placed design in living organisms. C. John Collins, in his book Science and Faith: Friends or Foes? is one of many authors who have presented a teleological (design) argument for the origin of life, one which challenges the Darwinian view that valid science must appeal only to natural causes and assume an unbroken chain of natural causes from beginning to end. In his book, Collins quotes atheist Richard Dawkins, author of The Blind Watchmaker, as saying “Biology is the study of complicated things that give the appearance of having been designed for a purpose,” which immediately raises the question: If biology gives the appearance of being designed for a purpose, should science ignore this evidence?

In further support of Intelligent Design, many of the constants of physics related to cosmology are so finely tuned as to make the universe appear to be designed to support life (these appearances, all taken together, are referred to as the anthropic principle). For example, if the constants of gravitational force, electromagnetic force, rate of expanding universe, or speed of light were even a tiny bit larger or smaller, it would preclude the universe and life from even being here. Or, as succinctly stated by physicist-engineer Walter Bradley:

The universe is such a remarkable place of habitation for complex, conscious life that it is extremely difficult to believe that it is the result of a long series of cosmic accidents. The elegant mathematical forms that are encoded in nature, the twenty-two universal constants with values within very narrow ranges of exactly what they need to be, and the multitude of initial conditions that must be within a very narrow bandwidth, which they are, would seem to suggest a universe that has been carefully crafted for our benefit.

Intelligent Design advocates have developed a “common design” argument that goes something like this: Why couldn’t a designer (not explicitly stated, but presumably God) have used similar DNA genomics and body structure for different organisms without the evolutionary “common descent” of all species being mandatory? That is, why couldn’t God have followed the same “blueprint” and created all life to only appear as if it is connected. For example, in the case of vestigial structures that we discussed earlier in this chapter, an intelligent design argument could be: if whales were created through successive generations from the same stock, they could retain some of the same anatomical features adapted for use in different environments.

Yet, what geneticists observe time and again, is that genetic sequences in organisms thought to be close evolutionary relatives match at all genomic levels (which is precisely what one would expect from a common ancestry, since the hypothesis is that similar organisms were once the same species with identical genomes). This also brings up the question: Why is there the overwhelming genomic appearance of a shared ancestry if all species are separately created organisms? Is this logic similar to the “appearance of age” argument used by Young-Earth Creationists for a 6,000 year universe and Earth? In both cases, why would God deceive us by making the data appear one way, but with reality being unrelated to the evidence?

So is Intelligent Design an alternative to evolution? The Bible affirms the reality of Intelligent Design, as in Psalm 19:1 (NIV): “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the skies proclaim the work of his hands.” Design is also observed in nature, both cosmologically and biologically. However, Intelligent Designers also claim that design in nature is scientifically detectable, and that is where the design argument breaks down. As Denis Lamoureux has pointed out in his book Evolution: Scripture and Nature Say YES!, intelligent design is a belief that the world’s beauty, complexity, and functionality point toward an Intelligent Designer. In other words, science deals only with the physical, not the spiritual, and a religious belief cannot be verified by scientific proof. So, should Intelligent Design be taught in secular science classrooms or only in theology classes as evidence of design by a creator God? Or should students be encouraged to express their opinions and concerns about both evolution and various types of creationism in any classroom setting? In some studies, acknowledging the students religiosity actually increases their acceptance of evolution.

Evolutionary Creationism

The position of Evolutionary Creationism on evolution is aligned very closely with what is known by most Christians as “theistic evolution.” This view maintains that not only was God the originator of creation, but he also sustains and upholds it with the word of his power (Heb. 1:3). Rather than being a random, directionless process, evolution has a goal-directed purpose and design behind it that stems from God. Or, as Francis Collins remarked in his book The Language of God, the book of the human genome “was written in the DNA language by which God spoke life into being.” Evolutionary Creationism is the view favored by most scientists who are Christian, especially Christian biologists and geologists. It is a position rarely held by Protestant evangelicals, but is commonly the view of Roman Catholics and more liberal Protestants.

The main advantage to this theological position is that it satisfies the scientific requirement that all creatures are connected by common descent and the biblical requirement that this descent was by divine plan. In this view, natural processes and divine action are not in competition with each other, but are complimentary. What we call a natural process is not outside of his realm, but rather the universe and all living things within it have slowly evolved under the sovereign control of God’s Holy Spirit, in the sense of the first creation account in Genesis where we read, “And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters” (Gen. 1:2, KJV).

God’s biological direction includes the evolution of animal life to Homo sapiens until such time as humans were capable of a relationship with God. The end result of this evolutionary process was a creature “made in God’s image,” which includes the idea that humans have the spiritual capacity for communion and fellowship with their Creator (see Chapter 9). The key idea here is that, even though humans evolved over a long period of time, God created a longing for himself as part of their evolving human nature.

The Evolutionary Creationism position sounds reasonable for natural processes, but it also raises important theological questions. The hardest to answer is: What about miracles? Christianity seems to demand miracles and the supernatural – the virgin birth, the incarnate Christ, Christ’s resurrection, the miraculous healings of Jesus, and so on; that is, it also involves the spiritual dimension, which falls outside the laws of nature.

There are also theological problems with the time dimension of evolution. Did God just start life and let it evolve on its own? And if God let evolution run by itself, doesn’t this limit the creative activity of God? Is this view supported by the Bible, which indicates that God has intervened in his creation over time? Do humans have a distinct origin in theistic evolution, or are they but just another “let run” phenomenon? This position also has the weakness of straining Genesis 2 and 3 in terms of Adam and Eve being historical figures. Because populations – not individuals – evolve, one alternative theistic evolution subview of Adam and Eve is that they are only symbols or archetypes of the human race instead of being real historical persons.

Another huge problem with theistic evolution is: How does it actually work? Exactly what is the interaction between God and the macroevolution of species? If God does work through evolution – such as maintained by Michael Behe in his book The Edge of Evolution – has God manipulated genetic material in some way impossible for science to detect? Or is this process of God working in evolution a variation of a “nature miracle” such as we discussed at the end of Chapter 6? In nature miracles, one does not have to invoke the notion of the suspension or violation of natural laws; divine action can simply be understood as higher-order laws (God’s ultimate purpose) working seamlessly with lower-order laws (God’s physical laws). In the examples given in Chapter 6 of the Jordan River parting, Jesus rebuking the winds and sea, and Joshua’s long day, it was the timely intervention of God into natural processes. But in the case of evolution, could this intervention be a continuous, ever-abiding process? In other words, could evolution be a self-organizing process that God directs from within – feedback that includes small “tweaks” in genes that affect protein changes? Or, as Simon Conway Morris asked: Is the evolutionary process “an emergent property that is wired into the biosphere,” with the final result being a sentient species able to comprehend a creator God?

This post is adapted from A Worldview Approach to Science and Scripture by Carol Hill. If you are interested in adopting this book for a college or seminary course, please request a faculty examination copy. We will also consider requests for your blog or media outlets.

A Worldview Approach to Science and Scripture makes an important contribution to the discussion of the compatibility of scientific and biblical understandings which will be helpful in both the Christian community and general culture. Professional geologist Carol Hill draws the reader into the world of ancient Mesopotamia and the land of Eden, both culturally and scientifically, in order to provide context for interpreting the early chapters of Genesis. Through the plentiful use of photographs, maps, and tables, the book offers rich new information and insights for addressing some very old questions—regarding origins of the living world, a global flood, and more.”
—Michael L. Peterson, Professor of Philosophy and Religion, Asbury Theological Seminary


About Author

Carol Hill, PhD, has been featured on NOVA and on National Geographic's Naked Science program.

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